Magic 98, Cavaliers 92
Parked in the foul lane, Dwight Howard gave a two-hand shove to
Cleveland’s mascot, Moondog, who turned his tail and taunted
Orlando’s star center.
The crowd cheered. Howard laughed.
It was play time.
Next time, things will be much more serious between the Magic
Mickael Pietrus scored all 12 of his points in the fourth
quarter and Jameer Nelson hit a big 3-pointer in the closing
minutes as Orlando geared up for the postseason with a 98-92 win
Sunday over Cleveland, which gave LeBron James another day off to
rest for the NBA playoffs.
Shortly before tip-off, the Magic learned that James would sit
out his third straight game and that Shaquille O’Neal still wasn’t
ready to come back from an injury.
“The air went out of our locker room when they found out he
(James) wasn’t playing,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “When those
guys weren’t playing, we had a lot of guys that didn’t want to
play, either. We wanted to play against their team and we really
weren’t interested in playing against the other guys,
Cleveland’s regular-season home finale was little more than a
glorified exhibition game as both teams went through the motions
while gearing up for the postseason.
“We’re just trying to get to the playoffs as healthy as
possible,” said Cleveland’s Mo Williams, who had 19 points and
nine assists. “We know that come next Saturday or Sunday, we
aren’t going to have to worry about it.”
Pietrus was a matchup nightmare in the playoffs last season for
Cleveland, averaging 13.9 points in the Eastern Conference finals
when the Magic eliminated the Cavs in six games. The 6-foot-6
swingman made a pair of 3s to open the fourth quarter Sunday and
Nelson delivered his dagger 3 with 2:53 left to put Orlando ahead
Howard had 22 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. He grasped why
the Cavaliers decided to sit James, but wished his Olympic teammate
“We all wanted to play against those guys, but we understand
what they’re trying to do,” Howard said. “It would’ve been fun. I
think everybody wanted to see the Cavs with all their guys and the
Magic with everybody playing. It was disappointing, but I’m glad we
got the win.”
Losing to the LeBron-less Cavs wasn’t an option.
“It would’ve been embarrassing,” Howard said.
Delonte West had 21 points, Antawn Jamison 19 and Zydrunas
Ilgauskas 12 for the Cavaliers, who finished the regular season
35-6 at home.
James watched from the bench along with O’Neal, who has been out
since tearing a thumb ligament Feb. 25 and hasn’t been cleared by
doctors to play. Cleveland anticipates having him in the postseason
and will need the 7-foot-1 center to get past Howard and the
The Cavaliers had no answer inside during last year’s series
against Orlando’s big man, who muscled his way to the rim past
Ilgauskas, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao and anyone else in his
way. O’Neal, if he’s healthy, believes he can neutralize the
“They’ve added a little more bulk on the inside and they all
try to make it tough for us to get in the paint,” Howard said.
“We’re still going to play our brand of basketball – shoot 3s,
play inside and out and play defense.”
Cleveland coach Mike Brown sat James again, giving the reigning
MVP – and almost certainly the next one, too – additional rest for
the playoffs. Dressed in a beige sports coat and matching slacks,
James sat at the end of Cleveland’s bench and even took a turn
behind the TV microphone during the first quarter of ABC’s
During his interview, James discussed the Cavs’ roster upgrades
and said the team’s biggest acquisition, O’Neal, has lost 20 pounds
since getting hurt.
The Cavs have been hoping to get O’Neal back to shake off some
expected rust, but Brown said team doctors have not yet cleared the
James and O’Neal left Quicken Loans Arena without speaking to
Van Gundy wasn’t gloating about Orlando’s win, which tied the
season series 2-2.
“We got a win, but nothing else,” he said. “It was a bad
basketball game from our standpoint, but we won. I’m not going to
complain. What else do I take from it? Nothing.”
The Magic played their starters at least 24 minutes and worked
out a few late-season kinks. Orlando has wrapped up the No. 2 seed
in the East and can still beat out the Los Angeles Lakers for the
second-best overall record, which would give the Magic home-court
advantage if the two teams meet in the finals for the second
“We’re trying to win every game, because they will all mean
something in the end,” said Vince Carter, who had six points on
3-of-10 shooting. “I think we’re ready to go.”
NOTES: The Cavs sold out all 41 home dates for the first time
and have 77 straight sellouts. … Orlando center Marcin Gortat of
Poland honored fallen Polish President Lech Kaczynski by writing
the fatal flight number on his sneakers and writing Kaczynski’s
name on the tape around his wrist. Kaczynski and dozens of
political, military and religious leaders were killed in a plane